Cannondale SmartSense System Lengthy-Time period Evaluation: Synapse 1 RLE



After almost a yr of utilization, I’ve bought a fairly good deal with on the Cannondale SmartSense system. The concept with the SmartSense platform is {that a} bike could be geared up with biking rearview radar, lights (back and front), velocity sensors, and even an influence mount on your bike GPS/laptop, all run from a single removable USB-C battery – and all configurable through a single app. Past that the lights simply activate the second you begin shifting, and on the finish of the journey your rides robotically save and add to the app and varied platforms like Strava. It’s tremendous intelligent.

Cannondale first rolled this out on the Synapse highway bike collection a couple of yr in the past, and has since expanded it to their Topstone gravel bikes. As with most fancy devices, this isn’t accessible on each mannequin, although it’s additionally not simply the costliest $10K bikes both.

Now as typical for this web site, I’m probably not going to deal with issues like lateral stiffness or different bike-specific evaluation issues. As an alternative, that is all in regards to the electronics platform of SmartSense and the way all these elements work. In my case, I used to be testing it contained in the body of the $9,500 Synapse 1 RLE, however functionally all these elements work simply the identical within the far cheaper bike fashions. It’s all the opposite fancy stuff on the bike that makes it costly, not the SmartSense elements. Additionally, that is/was a loaner bike that they’ll be choosing again up shortly.

With that – let’s get into it!

The {Hardware}:


To start with the apparent, this requires a Cannondale bike. Particularly, the Synapse (highway) and Topstone (gravel) lineups right now. What’s fascinating although is that not all items can be found on all bikes. The concept although is that you could look at a motorbike title and see which elements it has. Right here, have a look at this (small portion) of the Synapse lineup. These three fashions have three totally different ranges of stuff:


Every bike you’ll see has an assigned suffix made up of three letters:

R = Radar
L = Lights
E = Digital shifting
[No letters = nothing burger]

In order we see within the above screenshot from their web site, the:

Synapse Carbon 2 RLE: Has Radar, Lights, and Electronic shifting
Synapse Carbon 3 L: Has simply Lights
Synapse Carbon 4: Ain’t bought nothing fancy

Fairly simple, proper?

On this case, the bike I examined is the Cannondale Synapse 1 RLE, with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9250, although oddly not an influence meter at that $9,050 worth level. On the intense aspect, given how dangerous the Shimano R9200 energy meter is accuracy-wise, that’s in all probability not a loss. This evaluation isn’t in regards to the bike itself, however right here’s the full spec web page in order for you it.

Now, let’s speak {hardware}. On this case, the digital shifting factor, whereas known as out within the naming, actually isn’t a part of the SmartSense platform. So a motorbike has to have both RLE or L to be a part of this membership. And the primary portion of the membership is the so-called ‘Cradle’. That’s this piece right here within the body of the bike that the battery will snap into:


The cradle is successfully the brains of the operation. It controls the lights, the radar, homes the battery, and all of the smarts. Actually, in contrast to a ‘regular’ Garmin Varia radar the place the communications bits are within the unit on the again, right here, they’re within the cradle. The identical goes for the battery, there isn’t any second/further battery on the again (or entrance) – all the things depends upon this singular battery that snaps in:


There’s a locking mechanism on the aspect, after which 4 LED’s on it. The battery has bi-directional USB-C charging, so it may possibly both be charged, or cost different issues (like a cellphone) in the event you needed. It’s 2665mAh. Cannondale says the purpose is to additionally promote bikes with out the cradle however permit for upgrades later. On this case, it’s only a small instruments compartment as a substitute. You should purchase all of the items individually on their web site already.

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Now heading to the again of the bike, the cradle connects to the radar. It is a Garmin Varia radar, however in a completely totally different type issue. As famous, there isn’t any battery again right here, nor any ANT+/BLE communications. That’s all inside to the cradle. Once more, one battery and communications level to rule all of them. Within the beneath image, the radar is the rectangular black part with the phrase ‘Garmin’ on it.


The radar features identically to another Garmin radar, because it’s nonetheless Garmin internals inside. You’ll be able to see the radar portion alongside the underside, after which the crimson gentle bar wrapping across the high.


This 85-lumen rear tail gentle is definitely made by Lezyne, not Garmin. To which you’re in all probability like: “Why didn’t Cannondale simply use Garmin for the lights too?”. The reply is a mix of technical and demonstration. A small portion of the choice was the precise gentle specs that they needed, however the far greater portion is that Cannondale mentioned they purposefully chosen a number of distributors to each power everybody into an interoperable system, and exhibit to future enlargement distributors that it’s not only a one-vendor-trick pony. Additional, Cannondale says that by having that consolidation of all of the ‘brains’ and communications into the cradle, it means they’ll proceed including options down the highway – slightly than relying on the distributors to take action.


There may be additionally an accelerometer in that rear radar, which lets the system set off deceleration warnings to drivers (blinking the lights).

Subsequent, sliding as much as the entrance of the bike, you’ve bought the 350-lumen entrance gentle. This too is made by Lezyne. It additionally has a small ambient gentle sensor on the again, so it may possibly detect if you’re going via a tunnel and improve the lights on your entire system robotically. That is configurable utilizing the app (which is seamless as a part of the cradle).


The one draw back although is as of now, there aren’t any ANT+ lighting controls right here. There may be for the radar, however not the lights. Virtually talking although, this didn’t actually matter to me. First, there’s a easy button on the again of the entrance gentle to regulate settings in real-time if I needed to, and second, as a result of the bike lights activate the second the wheels begin rolling, I by no means actually had a must manually flip them on. Nonetheless, Cannondale says they aren’t towards including it, and might even see it in a firmware replace down the highway.

But it surely’s on the again of the entrance gentle that issues get actually fascinating. At first you’ll discover the wired connection working out of it to the central battery. Nevertheless, there are additionally two ports on the correct and left sides. These two ports permit enlargement down the highway, and since launch a yr in the past, we’ve already seen the primary of such expansions.


Final summer time when Garmin introduced the Garmin Edge Discover 2, in addition they introduced the brand new energy mount for it. Garmin beforehand has a battery pack setup, however this new mount allowed steady energy from an exterior supply. On this case, the Cannondale’s present mount is appropriate with it, however you want the elements from the $100 Garmin Energy Mount Equipment (some small plastic bits, plus the charging puck portion). Fortunately although, the default cable sort within the energy mount equipment is for Cannondale, permitting it to plug into the spare port on the entrance gentle. Albeit the cabling system isn’t proprietary to Cannondale although, it’s the identical one used on loads of different e-bikes on the market from Higo (that is true for your entire SmartSense cabling).


Actually, the few further plastic bits within the field have been additionally adapters permitting it to string up via the included Cannondale out-front mount, offering fixed energy to your Garmin Edge machine.


That is appropriate with not simply the Garmin Edge Explorer 2 (bundled energy mount models), but in addition a slew of Garmin Edge models through the years which have had energy help. This consists of the Garmin Edge 530, Edge 830, Edge 1030, Edge 1030 Plus, and Edge 1040. You’ll be able to see right here the ability icon within the higher left proven as plugged in, whereas concurrently it exhibits it connecting to the Varia radar on the bike as I spun the entrance wheel to wake it up.


Lastly, the final piece of the puzzle is the smallest however arguably probably the most necessary – the entrance wheel sensor. This sensor is a rebranded Garmin Velocity Sensor V2, and is answerable for waking up the remainder of the system when the wheel spins. After about two revolutions it wakes up the cradle and battery pack, which in flip wakes up the bike lights and radar.


Nevertheless, it additionally data the gap and time of all of your rides. It is a characteristic of the Garmin Velocity Sensor V2, and Cannondale places it to make use of right here by syncing all this knowledge to the app. Which is a superb segue to the following part.

The App:

The Cannondale app isn’t required for day-to-day utilization, however, is required for configuring and customizing settings. Basically, the app has three core areas:

A) Historic itemizing of each journey you do robotically (makes use of the wheel sensor)
B) Bike/gentle/radar/battery/all the things settings (and might retailer a number of bikes)
C) Potential to report a journey on the cellphone

Beginning on the primary tab, you’ve bought your historic journey knowledge. This knowledge robotically populates from the wheel sensor. Keep in mind, the wheel sensor isn’t tied to the principle battery, so even when you’ve got a battery-less journey, the wheel sensor nonetheless does its factor (on a coin cell battery).

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One minor caveat right here is that in the event you have been to by chance pair this to a Garmin app or head unit, that has the potential (relying on settings) to nullify your rides within the Cannondale app. It is because the sensor is definitely a rebranded/tweaked Garmin Velocity Sensor V2, which permits cached reminiscence. However to Garmin’s apps/units, it simply seems to be like a Garmin sensor – so, it tries to obtain that cache. I had this drawback just a few instances over the past yr as I examined new Garmin units and it’d attempt to pair to it (if I by chance didn’t say no). The perfect answer is truthfully to let the Garmin machine pair to the sensor, after which set it to be disabled in your Garmin machine. In the meantime, for the cellphone mentioned, simply say no on the Garmin app. However actually, don’t overthink it, you’ll be tremendous (I’m simply together with this tidbit in case somebody is having a difficulty down the highway, right here’s the simple repair).

The rides robotically sync after activating the entrance wheel once more post-ride. That means, after you end a journey it gained’t immediately present up, because it doesn’t actually know that your journey is completed (versus stopping at a light-weight). You’ll be able to take a look at the whole particulars from the journey, in addition to add images, rename, and so forth…

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You can even connect with Strava, Garmin, and Apple Well being in order for you extra detailed info, pulling it into the Cannondale app. The sync is bidirectional for each Strava & Apple Well being, however one-way for Garmin Join (from Garmin)

Let’s head onto the great things although – the settings portion. That is below the ‘Storage’ tab, the place ostensibly you’ve purchased a number of costly Cannondale bikes. On the high, you may faucet every a kind of inexperienced icons to get extra knowledge. As famous, a few of my totals are brief numerous knowledge as a result of zapping I discussed earlier from final spring/summer time (additionally, coach rides don’t present up right here as a result of the entrance wheel doesn’t transfer).

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The idea is cool although, you’ve bought upkeep schedules to remind you to go get issues serviced. There’s a precise itemizing of the elements in your bike, in addition to a hyperlink to the guide, fast self doable upkeep gadgets, and extra. Once more, none of this by itself is earth-shattering, however given it’s proper on the high of the identical place you’d alter your bike settings, it’s straightforward to seek out/bear in mind.

IMG_6584 IMG_6580 IMG_6586

However in the end, it’s the underside of this tab the place all the products are, this part right here:


The primary part is each your entire system, however primarily targeted on the battery. It exhibits your present battery standing, varied cradle firmware/system variations, in addition to whether or not low energy mode engages robotically, and whether or not auto wake occurs (versus simply manually urgent the button).


Subsequent, you’ve bought gentle settings, each entrance and back lights. Inside this, there are 4 gentle mode saved settings, which you’ll be able to iterate via utilizing the button on the again of the entrance gentle (accessible whereas using). There are additionally normal settings that apply throughout all modes, which you’ll be able to see beneath. In my case, I turned off each “Brake Alert” and “React to Radar Goal”, primarily as a result of right here within the Netherlands, blinking lights are largely frowned upon. Additional, with a lot of what I journey being road-adjacent-but-separate bike paths, it’d be always triggering for each automotive that glided by, which is kinda annoying to the opposite cyclists on the trail – because it flashes BOTH entrance and back lights.

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I additionally disabled the auto-adjust in low gentle, merely as a result of I needed to have the longest battery doable.

Inside the gentle mode settings, you may tweak entrance and back lights. This consists of gentle patterns in addition to brightness percentages. I’ve settled on about 30% brightness, although frankly I might go decrease. I exploit always-on (no pulse), as a result of once more, flashing lights are frowned upon in a lot of Europe. But when flashing is your factor, it’ll truly exhibit the sample for you up high as an animation. Once more, tremendous intelligent.

IMG_6594 IMG_6595

Subsequent, there’s the radar settings. These are fairly simple, I depart the Audio alert on, however they largely pertain to the cellphone app slightly than your bike laptop, as all these settings occur through your bike laptop. To your bike laptop, that is simply a normal difficulty Varia Radar.


Lastly, there are the wheel sensor settings. Keep in mind, that is for the entrance wheel, so once more, any coach time gained’t be accounted for right here. Realistically, the one factor to alter right here could be in the event you modified the tires, provided that in any other case the unit is constructed into the entrance wheel:


Past these core areas, the remaining are principally simply settings pages. There aren’t a ton of different issues to tweak, however listed here are just a few:

IMG_6601 IMG_6600

With that, let’s have a look at some day-to-day using with it.

Using with it:


Now as famous, this was a long-term evaluation. Although frankly, it wasn’t precisely my intention for it to be. Like anything, issues saved sliding off my plate, and getting this evaluation out the door was one among them that saved falling off the plate. So right here we’re a yr later and I’ve put fairly a bit extra time on it than I anticipated – in all types of circumstances in a number of international locations round Europe. Whereas the system was fairly stable final yr after I first began with it, there have been the quite a few sync/cache points that I famous within the earlier part, in addition to some battery high-burn bugs too. With all these gone, it’s been fairly easy crusing since.

The ‘simply works’ issue is exceptionally excessive. I solely need to cost the only battery now, and I *KNOW* I’ll have bike lights and radar that work. No coping with charging entrance lights and back lights and radar, and the bike laptop. Heck, I can take a just about useless Garmin Edge machine, toss it on the bike and exit and journey for hours and hours with no concern. It’s wonderful.

On the Varia radar aspect of issues, it carried out identically to the usual Varia radar models. I ran them side-by-side for fairly some time final spring, with each an RTL515 and RCT715, and two concurrent Edge models, and so they triggered on the identical time. I’m certain there are some edge circumstances the place one would possibly journey a cut up second earlier than the opposite, however even these I think could be extra about place (or grime accumulation on the radar because of placement).

Someday early final summer time after they have been troubleshooting some early high-burn lighting points, Cannondale despatched out a second/further battery to have on-hand for longer rides. Whereas they ultimately sorted out the sunshine points in an app replace, the additional battery would change into probably the most helpful equipment. Principally, it allowed me to have one bike on the battery, and one on standby charging. Thus, I’d at all times have a battery able to roll for an impromptu night/darkish journey, or anything.


However as I argued to them, the present battery additionally appears only a bit too small. Given all the additional weight on the bike (radar, back lights, entrance lights, wiring), this bike isn’t meant for ‘save each gram’ racing. And the fact is, the overwhelming majority of individuals don’t race. They only journey. Certain, you might detach most of it fairly simply in the event you needed to, however most gained’t. The purpose being although, that I want they’d a double-stack single battery choice. Give me twice the battery capability by growing the peak of the battery. I’m not using this bike configuration to avoid wasting a tiny little bit of weight, I’m using it for security.

That is much more true as a result of there’s no option to flip off the charging of your bike laptop, wanting pulling the cable. So yesterday, I went out for a 3.5hr journey, and the Cannondale battery was at 100%, whereas my Edge 1040 Photo voltaic was a 50%. Given the Edge 1040 Photo voltaic has 45 hours of battery life (+ photo voltaic time), there’s no cause for me to proceed charging it on this journey. But it surely did, slowly however absolutely from 50% as much as 86%. However in doing so, it worn out a stable chunk of my Cannondale battery with it whereas I rode – taking place to 25% (from 100%). This was with gentle settings for always-on at 30%, plus radar. That means I used to be on observe for about 4.5ish hours with the recharging happening too.


Now, it turns on the market’s truly some battery logic right here already. Garmin says that when the battery is beneath 50%, it’ll draw battery at max present, whereas as soon as it’s at 50% or larger, it’ll accomplish that at a diminished fee. That implies that on this case I’m considerably fortunate I didn’t exit with the Edge battery at 15% (nonetheless PLENTY for my 3.5hr journey), as I’d undoubtedly have misplaced lights/radar in the direction of the tip of the journey. Nonetheless, ideally, there could be some communication between the Garmin Edge and the cradle to extra neatly handle this or let me handle this (with out having to tug the connector cable).

When it comes to total battery life, Cannondale says that in a pulsing configuration, you must be capable to stand up to 12 hours of sunshine+radar in the correct battery configurations. They’ve numerous totally different battery configurations, so it’s kinda everywhere in the map. I’d say my real-world utilization totally on the 30% always-on energy saving mode + radar places it round 6-7 hours of battery life (if the Edge isn’t charging too).

Nonetheless, these are considerably edge circumstances. One can simply not use the ability mount (which is further anyway), and drawback solved. And total, I’m tremendous pleased with the day-to-day use elements of the bike from a charging/utilization perspective. It’s very nice to not have to fret about having charged bike computer systems. Properly, besides the Shimano shifting elements. So let’s speak about that.

Evolving Ahead:


(Above: The charging port for the Shimano Di2 shifting elements)

I’ve tried quite a few so-called good bikes through the years. For instance, I used the VanMoof good bike for a yr or so. And in some ways, every of those iterations has completed one thing proper, however stopped wanting perfection.

The Synapse is far the identical means. It’s actually one of many first instances we’ve seen robust good integration throughout product firm traces. Cannondale has partnered with Garmin for the radar portion, whereas actually wrapping it in a Lezyne gentle. All whereas being triggered by a Garmin Velocity sensor. It’s geekily artistic in its method, but it surely’s cleanly completed. The ‘simply works’ issue is excessive, versus one thing cobbled collectively DIY model.

Nevertheless, whereas these firm boundaries are blurred – others are way more apparent. In any case, there’s nonetheless one other battery within the body for Shimano Di2. This not solely provides weight, however presents two issues to cost. And that’s ignoring the truth that the ability cable from the principle lights/radar battery runs instantly previous/over the Di2 battery. Which begs the query: Why can’t the principle battery cost the Di2 battery?

I’m not asking for Di2 to be consolidated (okay, possibly I might on a unique day). I feel there’s some validity in having your vital shifting system battery separate out of your not-as-critical radar battery. Nevertheless, why isn’t the Di2 battery piggybacking off the principle Synapse battery? So every time I cost the principle battery, it tops off the Di2 battery? The Di2 battery lasts far longer after all (often months), so the topping off is simply that – topping off.

Subsequent, we get to the shortage of ANT+ controls on the lights. They went to all the difficulty to smartify this bike, and but missed out on the one bike lighting management normal. One supported by Garmin, Hammerhead, Bontrager, See.Sense, Fly6, and others. Now definitely, as I famous above – it hasn’t been a giant deal to me in every day utilization, however I do know for some, having that management on the handlebars is necessary.

The opposite problem is about upgradeability. Whereas some folks do exchange their bikes each few years, I’m definitely not one among them. My predominant highway bike is 6 years previous, and my triathlon bike far older. On this case, it’s a given that each 2-3 years Garmin comes out with a brand new radar model – corresponding to final yr with their RCT715 radar digital camera. We haven’t seen any variant of that for the Cannondale system but, regardless of being a yr later. That after all would require {hardware} engineering, to have the ability to have a eliminated battery, eliminated elements, how do you deal with offloading media with what is often one thing you take away from the bike, and so forth… Possibly that’s minor, possibly it’s not. To Garmin’s credit score, every time they’ve completed so, your entire platform and mounting system has remained backwards appropriate.

It’s been a yr, however there haven’t been any further equipment but. If we have been Bontrager/Trek, we’d have some historical past (very lengthy historical past) on how they deal with related lights/and so forth, however in Cannondale’s case, it’s all new. Which isn’t dangerous – in that point interval Cannondale has added a second bike lineup (the gravel bike), and after I requested yesterday, they mentioned that “we’ll additionally see different SmartSense prepared merchandise, and shoppers will be capable to buy the system aftermarket if .”



Loads of bikes meander via the DCR Cave annually, and have for a few years. For the overwhelming majority of those bikes I’m testing different good elements – issues like energy meters or digital shifting. Generally there are some bike lights, and each every now and then another related factor.

However that is the primary time there’s a cohesive story between virtually all the elements on the bike. Cannondale went to numerous bother to make this really feel like one single built-in answer. To the typical client, you’d do not know that it was sourced from a number of distributors utilizing present tech. Every thing comes throughout as native Cannondale (in a great way), but they nonetheless preserved compatibility for the present requirements (the radar specifically).

If you step again and give it some thought: Cannondale is triggering automobile proximity notifications on the Lezyne’s non-smart entrance/again lights utilizing Garmin’s Varia radar (additionally wrapped in Lezyne lighting), all of which is configured through Cannondale’s personal smartphone app…fully seamlessly whereas nonetheless guaranteeing the Varia radar connectivity exhibits up on just about any trendy bike laptop – be it Garmin, Wahoo, Levels, Hammerhead or others.

About the one space the place issues get somewhat messy is that the velocity sensor can pair into the present Garmin Join app, which may trigger some ride-offloading confusion in the event you let it. However that’s a comparatively minor nitpick within the grand scheme of issues.

As famous above, I’d like to see them supply a double-stack battery choice, and I’d like to see this supplied on lower-priced bikes. As I look to doubtlessly refresh each my highway and triathlon bike within the coming months, I’d be very inclined to think about one of many SmartSense-enabled fashions on the proper funds. Moreover, I’d wish to see highway variants with SRAM AXS on them. At present, all of the Synapse fashions have Shimano digital shifting, and all of the gravel fashions are SRAM digital shifting. Whereas it gained’t seemingly matter for most individuals, given Shimano’s blocking of the Hammerhead Karoo shifting connectivity/knowledge, it makes it troublesome for me to check future bike laptop shifting integrations if I’ve solely bought Di2 in my steady. However once more, I acknowledge that’s not a difficulty for most individuals. At current, the least costly bike to have the SmartSense system is the $3,325USD Synapse Carbon 3 L, geared up with mechanical Shimano 105. The costliest is the Synapse Carbon 1 RLE, at $9,050USD.

In the end although, I’d like to see this development proceed, each for Cannondale, and different distributors as properly. It’s by far one of the best integration I’ve seen to this point.

With that, thanks for studying!

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